Dinosaurs and Drumheller (146)

In this episode John and Gregg record the podcast together for the first time in person in Drumheller, Alberta. In it they discuss their recent trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world’s preeminent dinosaur museums, that is located in Drumheller.

John explains how, while at the museum, he was struck by the amount of time and dedication that the paleontologist had put into their work. Gregg agrees, and believes that the same type of clear, direct and convincing presentation that the museum offered about dinosaurs is exactly what the church’s presentation of Christianity should be like.

Gregg emphasizes that he is not suggesting that the church should be treating God as a paleontologist might treat a fossil, because fossils are data to be assessed through examination while God is an entity to be know through relationship and objective sources (such as the biblical text but also through the natural and human sciences, and real world interactions). Thus the relational nature of Christianity differentiates it from the task of paleontology, but the careful approach and clear, convincing presentation should be

John was also struck by how his former Christian views (of cynicism toward evolution) were aroused as he walked through the museum. For example, how do they know that a certain fossil is 200 million years old? Gregg suggests that, with this “museum model,” he could imagine that resources (such as experts in a given field) can be accessed to offer clear, sensible and convincing explanations for these sorts of estimates.

Gregg again insists that the church should offer similarly compelling, thorough, and even-keeled explanations such as would allow outsiders to engage productively with Christianity rather than viewing it as intellectually bankrupt or irrelevant. However, the type of expertise that the church needs should not be concentrated in a few individuals but should be spread throughout the body of Christians.

Returning to the question of evolution, Gregg notes that the typical evangelical starting place—starting with God—is problematic (and indeed, impossible). Further, “starting” with the Bible (even as an “artificial” starting place) risks preferencing the Bible in unwarranted ways. So the museum’s fossils vastly pre-date the writing of the Bible, yet many evangelicals attempt to use the Bible for the purpose of disproving evolution, something for which Gregg sees no basis or intention.

Gregg suggests that evangelicals should use visits to places like this museum as experiments to understand how better to listen to, and so relate with, non-Christians. Further, Gregg explains how he sees atheism as, at its core, a “truth-seeking enterprise.” Gregg thus sees this as good reason for taking atheistic views seriously.

John relates a past experience of someone strongly holding to the importance of the “six literal days of creation” (as described in the Bible) and their belief that it was foundational to believing all of the Bible.  John sees this as largely unimportant.

Gregg both agrees and disagrees. He agrees that, on the one hand, one may legitimately become a Christian regardless of holding to six day creationism or theistic evolution. Yet on the other hand Gregg disagrees: insofar as perspectives such as evolution have been well documented and evidenced (if not proven) by information sources outside of the Bible then Christians are deeply remiss if they do not engage with and embrace them. And this is not only for the sake of maintaining the credibility of Christianity with non-Christians but also for the sake of one’s own intellectual integrity.

Further, insofar as the evidence about the physical world is truthful, this same evidence is able to act as a predictor and indicator of human origins (Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, citing pages 24 and 27). On this basis Gregg advocates using these and other understandings derived from the physical world—from the created order—as arbiters between competing (and seemingly stalemated) theologies!

In other words, there is a necessary and productive relationship between creation and salvation, and truthful knowledge within one realm can act as yardstick for evaluating truthfulness in the other.

Correction: in discussing Your Inner Fish Gregg mentioned that the fossil of Tiktaalik was found on Baffin Island. It was in fact found on Ellesmere Island.

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